I think many reviewers (myself included) fall prey to the notion that new music has to be innovative in some fashion in order to be worthy of high praise. Not all things that are innovative are inherently good, and not all good things are necessarily innovative. This is just an elaborate way of saying that Spelljammer’s new album Abyssal Trip, while nothing new to stoner doom, is very good.
Abyssal Trip is the Swedish trio’s first release in five years, and it’s a welcome return. The production value has increased significantly compared to their past work. The fuzz tone is near perfection, having a refined buzz similar to that of a band like Monolord. This comparison starts to grow legs when you consider the album was mastered by Monolord drummer Esben Willems. But that’s not to say Spelljammer are Monolord clone (Duolord?); they definitely edge their Swedish brethren out vocally, and at least on Abyssal Trip, Spelljammer sound a bit more cacophonous and foreboding.
The opening track “Bellwether” almost serves more as a 6-minute intro track than the album’s first proper song. For this track, the band flaunts their mastery of the art of suspense. Ominous riffs are carried forward by sporadic, yet spastic drum fills. This all builds nicely to the point where the band drops us into the more uptempo “Lake”. This pair of songs represent the album’s slowest and fastest tracks respectively. Both are great examples of the band’s dynacism – “Bellwether” with its slow burn, and “Lake” with its changes in both tempo and volume.
Being a doom record, the album’s lyrical themes center around, well, doom – specifically the impending doom of mankind. The title track and the closing track exemplify this existential dread best. Both songs are apocalyptic and trance-like in nature, and make it easy for the listener to be sucked into the void created by the band’s riffage. This shamanic hypnosis will lure you into a disturbing comfort. “Abyssal Trip” plays with fiery diminished-second blues, while “Silent Rift” doubles down on modal dissonance.
Spelljammer does an excellent job of keeping things fresh. Sure, nearly every track falls under the stoner doom umbrella, but it never feels like the band is retreading old ground when comparing tracks. The only point of respite from the doom and gloom of the album is the track “Peregrine”, which sees a lone clean guitar gracefully glide along the horizon before making a dismal descent. I was initially disappointed that the band used the same distorted filter on the vocals throughout the album, but upon repeated listens I find that it fits the overall mood of the album nicely.
If you aren’t a fan of stoner doom, I don’t know that this album will sway you much. But if you are an unapologetic fan of the subgenre like me, you’re gonna eat Abyssal Trip up. As I alluded to at the start of this review, the stoner and doom are subgenres that are often critiqued for their lack of originality. That line of criticism is fair in many cases, but for an album like this one, I’d argue it’s a half-assed critique. Abyssal Trip is a reminder of the heights achievable within stoner doom.
Spelljammer’s new album Abyssal Trip was released on February 26th via RidingEasy Records.
Best Tracks: Lake, Silent Rift, Abyssal Trip
Weakest Tracks: n/a
FFO: Sleep, Monolord, Windhand